Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Day 108, 200609

Task #97 is "go walking with Matt at least 8 times." Matt and I are old friends - he was the fourth or fifth person I met when I went to University - and we used to go walking a couple of times a year. That dropped off, as these things do, but we stay in touch and still go for the odd stroll every now and then, between bouts of socialising. After a walk last October (ie, outside the scope of this project), we decided to do the Yorkshire Three Peaks, and needed to do some training runs. Unfortunately, life got in the way, and whilst we'd said "midsummer's day" for one of the walks, hopefully the full run, it turned out to be the first of our training runs, just one of the three.

When we said we'd do it, some other friends decided they wanted to come as well, which was great. I'm always up for more company when walking, as it means there's a greater chance of one of us making it back to civilisation.

Saturday was an early start, with Cathy and Mavis being taken to Horton-in-Ribblesdale for a stroll up Pen-Y-Ghent. Arriving in Horton was awful; although we'd planned to do this on the 20th months back, because it was close to the solstice and thus we'd have maximum daylight, it hadn't really occurred to us that other people would have the same idea. It was packed. We parked up in a field, and decamped to the caff where we waited for Matt to turn up. When we were all assembled there was a quick scout about the benches to see if there were any Devenish-Phibbs plaques, a trip to the loo (where I was bitten a few times by midges) and we were off.

There were steady streams of people going up and down the mountain. Because we were only doing one, I thought "let's take the easy route up" and led us along Horton Scar and along the backbone of the mountain. Everybody else was going to go to Brackenbottom and up the really steep bit which does involve some rock climbing, so we kept on meeting people on their way down. Stood at the bottom of the mountain, we could see a wave of rain crossing the valley and got our raincoats on just in time; the final stretch up the hill was done in cloud, and if it weren't for the occasional call out from the many teams of DoE expeditioneers we could have been the only people in the world, emerging blinking from the cloud into a world changed by the Singularity, or something more scary.

Downhill was awful; remind me in future to never do the route in that direction again. It means going up will kill us through exhaustion, but there were moments on the way down I thought we'd die through falling off. It was greasy underfoot, muddy on rocks worn smooth by hundreds of thousands of passing hiking boots, and there were a few unpleasant steps. Thankfully I didn't slip badly enough to fall off until it was safe to do so (but slip and fall over I did), but in future I'll wear KSB trainers and go on a nice, sunny day that's been preceeded by several other nice sunny days. And go up. I still want to set a speed time on that hill, so I may take a day off in July or August and see just how quickly I can do the round trip. As it was, we were 3h33m (GPS data will be forthcoming), and finished off the day with rhubarb crumble in the caff. Lovely to see the guys, as ever, and it was an absolute pleasure doing the trip with them. Next time: Matt sorts out an 8-mile route somewhere in the North Yorkshire moors. Should be fun!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Day 106, 180609

About two months ago I started an archery course, as part of task #68. Signing up with South Leeds Archers for a six-week beginners course, the first of the year, I thought I'd consider the task completed when I'd finished the course, not just after the first lesson.

Eight weeks later, archery is over, done and dusted, and all that jazz. What have I learned from it?

1. How to string a recurve bow.

This is harder than it looks, partially because it's counterintuitive. Fitting the limbs to the body is also counterintuitive, because they go on the wrong way 'round. When New World continent-conquering heroes had run out of bullets, they picked up the bows of their fallen enemies, and promptly took their own eyes out because they didn't understand the technicalities of recurve bows, and I can see why. But, get your head around the whole "you're doing it backwards" thing, and it's fine.

2. Consistency is everything.

Seriously, for three weeks it was all about "get your arrows in a good grouping without thinking about the golds". Then we moved onto using sights, which changed the grip and position, and that really threw me for a week. But, they're right. Concentrate on getting the arrows in the same spot, every time, then we can work on moving where that spot is. Changing your position on the bow, even a tiny bit, can make a huge difference to where the arrow will strike. I spent a week not realising that I should be touching the bow string into my nose and under my chin, not just under my chin; having two reference points is a huge help.

3. This is a survival skill.

Someone put a picture of a squirrel up on a target one week. It freaked me out a little. Reminders that really, this is a method of killing something did make me take a step back, because I'm not mad on the whole taking life away thing (I get guilt killing greenfly on my roses, which probably makes me some sort of big girly wuss). There is a huge element of skill involved in this, and it's skill I like to have, but the fundamental reasons for having the skill in the first place is something I have to think about.

4. Archers are nice people.

Generally, yes, people who carry weapons are quite nice to other people who carry weapons. The South Leeds Archers are fun people to be around, although social skills aren't necessarily a high priority. Not unlike geeks, really.

5. Arrows hurt.

Dropping the arrow off the guide rail onto your hand makes you go "ow". Doing it twice in quick succession gives you something that looks like fang marks and bruises that'll last a week on the back of your hand just above the thumb. Forgetting to put a bracer on your arm and then not holding the bow quite right means you'll get a bruice on your forearm that stings a bit. Not wearing finger tabs means your fingerprints will be worn off by the end of the session and you'll spend the next week wondering why the skin on your fingers is flaking off. Thankfully, nobody shot me, so injury was restricted to those things.

6. What all those bristly bits on pro bows are.

Stablisers. They're there to add weight to the bow, to make it move less when you're holding it. Of course, you have a fine balancing act between the amount of weight you need to provide inertia, and the amount you can hold without giving way. I added a stabliser and my grouping became much tighter; they are useful things to have.

7. How these things are scored.

It can be nuts complicated. It can also be very simple. Decide early on which way you'd like it to be.

8. Yellow = gold.

No matter how many times you call it yellow, and no matter how much it looks like a primary colour, someone will always correct you and call the centre circles the gold.

9. I enjoy the sense of peace.

You have to concentrate when shooting. Really concentrate. I would have enjoyed it more, I think, if there weren't two kids on the course constantly talking (or arguing with their Dads about how much money they'd get for hitting the target). However, in the brief moments where they were keeping quiet I could feel my concentration narrowing to a fine focal point, just in front of the arrow tip or on the other side of the sight, and there was an almost zenlike quality to those moments which I enjoyed. Concentrating at that level for any amount of time was very therapeutic and I really appreciated those moments when they came. Invariably, those moments came on shots where I hit the gold. It felt right.

So, that's that. I enjoyed doing it, and it's a skill I appreciated learning, but I think I'm done with archery for the time being. I'll be glad to get my Friday evenings back, and not have to keep an eye on the weather (out of a six week course, two of those weeks were rained off and one cut short) quite so much. I may go back to it, and if I get the chance to shoot I'll certainly keep my eye in, but for the time being I'm done.

Unfortunately, I'm putting task 3 on hiatus. I'm not keeping up with my photo-a-day thing, and so I might have to change it to "take 365 photos that represent a year's worth of shots over the course of the experiment". We'll see; I might pick it up again where I left off, but the "consecutive days" element will probably fall by the wayside.

Currently running habitual tasks: #3 (94/365, stalling), #13, #26, #37 (2/<34), #60 (11/50), #68, #66 (61/250), #87, #88, #100 (3/>3)
Currently running exploratory tasks: #38 (1/18), #17 (1/54+), #57 (1/9+)
Currently running growing tasks: #41, #52
Completed: 9
Remaining: 92

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Day 104, 160609

Strictly speaking trauma isn't really what happened over the bottom half of last week, except in one particular incident. But to use the modern sense of "trauma" to mean "nerve-wracking" then yes, we had that by the bucketload. First, some background: my parents-in-law are somewhat disorganised, have a flexible approach to time, attract drama like a theatre company and my Mother-in-law (let's call her M*) has a serious wheat allergy so we have to be very careful with her diet, whereas my Father-in-law (G*) has had a laryngectomy and can only talk in a whisper, and only when he has a valve in his stoma.

Chronologically, let's go back to Wednesday. S headed to Brum during the afternoon, checked into her hotel, and awaited the parental arrival. The reason S was back in Brum was the public workshop, where professionals take on the writings from those engaged in the MPhil in Playwriting and put them on stage. S is one of those who had a play on (the one about bees, if you read the press release). In fact, S was the last play to be put on over the two days, Thursday and Friday, which could be seen as a great honour; the headline act, if you will. It was referred to as "the headliner" repeatedly by her classmates. On the other hand, it just gave her more time to get twitchy. Her folks were attending the whole public workshop, to see S's play and to observe the rest of the competition. However, they were using a satnav to get from Norf Norf London to Brum, and were travelling after work. G* apparently spent most of the trip flicking V-signs at the satnav whilst M* was trying to keep him calm and drive after a busy day at work. They get lost in Brum's one-way system, but eventually park in the Pallisaides and try to find their way to the hotel.

They can't. They get lost.

Eventually they get hold of S, who gives them directions to a spot where she can meet them and get them to the hotel on foot. This is a good job, because the car park had locked up and M* couldn't get the car out of it. Then they get to the hotel, only to find that their room had been overbooked and the duty manager was being a c0ck; "I can't magically build a room out of nothing" was one of the phrases allegedly used, along with "there's nothing I can do" despite the room having been paid for in advance and checked no less than four times over the previous fortnight. Thanks to S knowing the trade, she was able to get past the muppet of a DM to speak to the GM (who was, astonishingly, still on site at 10pm), who went white at some of the commentary S was able to provide. Despite having to book them out to the Etap that night (the hotel was the 4* Burlington), they provided taxis, comped breakfast, upgraded their room for the following two nights and eventually bent over backwards to help them out. M* and G* decamped to the etap, and S phones me to get all this lot out of her system.

Thursday morning, M* & G* get back to the Burlington for breakfast. M* has a kipper. Unfortunately she missed a bone, and ended up with a fishbone in her throat. The best cure for a fishbone in the throat? A piece of dry bread. To which she's allergic. They needed to be on a particular train to Selly Oak, so after M* got herself sorted out after that, they went to the car to find G*'s jacket. Except they couldn't remember where they'd parked the car. S, at this point, throws up her arms in despair and runs to catch her train, after giving directions on where to go ("turn left at the firey demon, and you'll end up in Hell" was what she didn't say). They eventually make it to Selly Oak, an hour after S had been there watching some quite interesting pieces.

Eventually, after all of this I arrived, was told all the gory details about how the last 24 hours had taken 24 years off S's lifespan, and was given ten minutes to wash-and-brush-up before going out to dinner and afterwards we arranged to meet in reception at 10 the following morning.

Friday morning - yes, this isn't a week's worth of stuff, it's about 36 hours by this point - we got up in good time to get to reception, waited around for a bit for G* and M*, then said "fine, they're not here, let's go" and off S and myself went. We had a pleasant trip to Selly Oak (I'm still amazed by the train station more-or-less in the middle of the BU campus), then a walk up the road to the George Cadbury Hall, and I was shown off - sorry, introduced - to the classmates (I am no longer just "Mike", but "Mikeasseenontv", apparently) who were saying "oh, we're just the support act, S is headlining", and we saw the morning's worth of plays. Solely my opinion, but they were... ok. There was a post-Auschwitz play that was interesting, but the other two were competent, perfectly decent pieces of theatre (and I've seen worse put on by hardened professionals), but failed to grab me by the throat.

Lunchtime, and I wandered off to find a Private Eye and a sandwich, then met Mavis at the train station, as S was engaged in schmooze. On my way to the station I found M* & G*, who were walking somewhat slowly; it turned out that they weren't at reception on time because M* had fallen out of the shower. She'd hit her head (twice) on the tiled floor, and had an eight-inch bruise down her calf. She wasn't feeling too well, had practically given G* a heart attack, and he couldn't phone for help because his valve had come loose and he hadn't had time to fix it properly, so couldn't speak. Eventually they got some help from the day manager (who was a bit of a charmer), and M* decided - in spite of feeling sick and headachey - to struggle on and go to see S's play. So, they told me all of this, then said "but for goodness' sakes, don't tell S until it's all over."

Apparently, M* had gone to Boots to get some arnica tablets for the bruising and shock; she got them, then had trouble opening the box. After a couple of minutes of this she went back inside and asked the girl on the counter to help. After a couple of minutes, she couldn't get into it, so phoned head office to find out how this lid worked. M* was offered a refund - "I don't want a refund, I just want my tablets" - and it turned out that this batch of arnica tablets were sent out in faulty packaging, and M* was the first purchaser of this batch. The whole batch was taken off the shelves, as M* tried to find another Boots.

Mavis and myself headed up to the theatre, chatted for a bit waiting for S to finish schmoozing, and when she came out, all sparkly-eyed, M* and G* turned up having stopped in the pub for a bracer. Then we went into the auditorium, and sat through a play about a metaphysical detective (which was fun), and a (somewhat) kitchen sink drama by the writer of Another Paradise, before the headline act came on stage, The Bee Charmer by t'missus.

Not wanting to give anything away; it was excellent. I know I'm biased, but the writing was stunning, the performances were wonderful and expansive, and the director was over the moon to receive the script. They had a lot of fun putting it on, and I felt that S's writing had engaged the actors' imaginations. There was pindrop silences in the theatre, people rapt, their attention on the stage. It didn't feel like half an hour, but it zipped by. The writing reminded me a lot of Douglas Adams, where every word means something. The headline act was deservedly in the right place, in my opinion.

We decamped to the library next door for drinks and nibbles, where the writers were asked to attend a ten-minute individual panel interview with the invited guests. I thought there would be about half a dozen people on this panel. S was the last play, so she was the last one to attend. The previous day, the panel were a bit up themselves, giving the impression they weren't really expecting to find anything of note; one person said "send us your play when you submit; we'll probably read it and we might give you feedback. What will never, ever happen is that we'll put it on." So, S goes to the panel, opens the door and sees 19 people sat in a big circle. An involuntary "oh my god" escapes her lips, and a chuckle runs around the circle. The course director says "so, who wants to start?" and they were off. Everybody *loved* it. These are the great and the good in the theatre world, those people who can make or break careers, and they had a few criticisms, but all were making comments like "completely charming", "spellbinding", "captivating"... and before too long, ten minutes were up.

Steve wrapped things up - "thank you for coming, we can go & get drinks now" - and left, expecting everybody to leave with him. I saw him come down with a couple of people, and thought "oh, that's the panel", not expecting there to be 19 of them. S didn't appear. Hm, I thought. Maybe she's talking to the play director. Then another half-dozen came down. Another ten minutes went by, and then this mass of people, S at the rear, came back. She grabbed a drink, and:

"after Steve wrapped up, I was expecting everybody to go with him; that's what's been happening on previous sessions. Instead, almost everybody wanted to talk to me, and rushed my seat like a tidal wave; they were queueing up to talk to me. The woman from the National who said they will never put it on was saying that she could see it on a huge stage, a massive performance in a big theatre, and it was tremendously exciting work..."

There were people from radio being excited, our local theatre, the Rep, agents... No kidding; they loved it, and her. Clare, her director, said that she'd never seen or heard of anything like this happening before and was stunned.

So after that, Mavis left, M* & G* left, and S and me went for a pint by ourselves, then joined up with the remainders of the class for a (bloody good) curry. Back to the hotel, we picked up G* from their room and took him for a pint to get him out of M*'s increasingly painful hair. M* had at least a mild concussion in my opinion, but wouldn't go to A&E to get it checked out, she just wanted to sleep and there was no arguing to be had.

The following morning was reasonably calm; M* was feeling much better, so gingerly got into the shower, whereupon the shower head - an 8" whopper - dropped off the wall. Thankfully, not onto M*'s head, so she wrapped it in a towel and dropped it onto Reception. Then they came to find us, asked me for help shifting bags (which I did), and before too long we were all checked out and ready to depart. Some coffee and a muffin, a walk to the war memorial (which is lovely), and then I wandered into the museum while the others went shopping. I had a good poke around the museum, then went to wave off M* & G*. S and myself pottered around Brum, I took S up to the museum to see one particular artwork that fascinated me (Jacob Epstein's Lucifer), then it was time for our train home.

Seriously, this has been one of the oddest weeks I've had in a while (for many more reasons than I've mentioned here) and I've had some odd weeks recently. The next five days will be a cakewalk in comparison.

(Thanks to spending four hours on trains I'd been able to read Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, based off a film rec by my sister; yes, it's good. Not great literature, but not Dan Brown either. If you see a copy in a secondhand bookshop, you might enjoy it. I don't mention every book I read, or even one in twenty, but this is worth a thought or two. Beware, though: the subject matter may be triggering.)

This is a huge entry, and doesn't even contain photos. Tut. There are a couple of photos to come, though.

Anyway, this means task #82 has been completed! I have seen a play written by someone I know (and adore, quite honestly), and it was great.

Currently running habitual tasks: #3 (94/365), #13, #26, #37 (2/<34), #60 (11/50), #68, #66 (57/250), #87, #88, #100 (3/>3)
Currently running exploratory tasks: #38 (1/18), #17 (1/54+), #57 (1/9+)
Currently running growing tasks: #41, #52
Completed: 8
Remaining: 93

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Day 90 wordle

From Screen Captures

Day 90, 040609

I have been remarkably remiss in updating the blog over the past month. Very poor indeed, in fact.

Just about keeping up to date with the photo-a-day malarky (task #3), although I've not uploaded all of this week yet. Exercise has fallen by the wayside a little after an attempt at a very long walk, swimming pools and libraries have stalled somewhat, although I hope to pick them up again in a couple of days, and I'm being a bit rubbish about the plants; they're surviving, but I've not planted them out in growbags yet, and if this is all the summer we're going to get, they won't really do much.

On the other hand, I've got one more archery session to do, I've done four Exposure Leeds events, chocolate making continues apace and I'm doing some filming next week too. I'm keeping on top of the eat more fruit, remember breakfast and make lunch things, and plans are well underway for "get gently squiffy with as many friends as possible" later in the summer. My volunteering task has a serious number of contenders all clamouring for attention and going walking with Matt might happen before the end of the month.

Details, then.

Archery has gone well; the beginners sessions end tomorrow, and then we have to decide whether to join the club or not. As much as I have enjoyed the sessions I think this will be the last one I go to, at least for the forseeable future - I have too many other things going on, and the equipment is sufficiently expensive to require a "do I really need this?" conversation with my bank account (and would turn it into a "buy stuff" task, which I want to avoid). The element of calm archery provokes is therapeutic, but to do it justice I need to think hard about my reasons and have suitable kit, and I just don't feel it quite enough.

Exposure Leeds number 4 (task #85 was last night, and my last one for the purposes of 101Things. Unlike the archery, though, this one will be carried on way past the paramters set out here; I have thoroughly enjoyed every single one of the sessions that we've had. Last night we had a talk from Nick Efford about high dynamic range (HDR) postprocessing using Photomatix Pro, or whatever other tools there might be out there. I had a little tinker with Photomatix using Nick's suggestions, generating pseudo-HDR from single RAW files - really you should have a sequence of them with different EVs, but you can fake it as long as it is a RAW - and came up with one I'm really quite happy with.
pseudo HDR

Pardon the watermarks, but it's because I've not coughed up for the software yet! Speaking as someone who has gone "No! No! No!" in the style of Ian Paisley whenever HDR is mentioned in sensible conversation, last night opened my eyes considerably. It's not all about garish effects and nightmare saturations, but more about bringing closer the massive variance in contrast viewing between what we see and what technology is capable of displaying. Shame much of the stuff on Flickr is all about the former, really.

We were doing a print swap, too; bring a print, swap it for someone elses. It worked, too - someone took away my print from Spurn Head, I picked up someone's print of mountains.

After the HDR session was me speaking (again!) on "What Next for Social Documentary in Leeds", a somewhat cumbersome title but one that carries significance. We have a great local history scene here with plenty of resources available, but one or two could be improved upon... and this is where one of my volunteering projects comes in (#20). I don't want to talk about this too much at the moment because it's still a bit fragile, but I'm writing a scoping document as to how we could go forwards with this in the community (with local group backing, too), and soliciting opinions from the communities I would like to become users of whatever I come up with. Yes, it'll be Web-based, and it'll involve the Google Maps API, but before I start tinkering with code I want to get a decent project spec done and approved by the other parties involved at this stage.

Chocolates continue apace; I was asked to come up with a chocolate "involving blackcurrant and chilli". So I did;
Day 84

They're a layer of chili jam (boil 3 chopped red chillies in 200ml cider vinegar for 15 minutes, strain, add 3g of sugar per ml of liquid, bring to a rolling boil for 2 mins and add 50ml of liquid pectin, take off the heat, leave for a minute, then pour onto a sheet of bake-o-glide with something to stop it pouring off the edges) and a layer of blackcurrant ganache (130g double cream, 25g glucose syrup, 70g blackcurrant pureé, 500g white chocolate, boil the cream and glucose, pour onto the chocolate, leave for at least a minute before you start sirring, then stir into an emulsion and add the blackcurrants), dipped in chocolate and with drizzled coloured chocolate on top. Things I need: caramel rulers and a guitar cutter. The rulers are reasonably ok to get, but the guitar is a huge thing that I don't have space to store.

In recent weeks I've also done many things not on the list: attended BarCamp (brilliant, frankly), walked from Marsden to Cragg Vale (was supposed to be Hebden Bridge, but we had water and feet issues and needed a minor rescue), am getting involved in podcasting with a very nice chap called Daag (details will be forthcoming), and had T&C's birthday party. Enormous fun! I made a cake, which all went:
Cake remnants

and we're hoping to have a repeat event later in the year.

I finish another thing tomorrow, next week I get to see my delightful lady wife's play on the stage (#82), and things continue apace!

Currently running habitual tasks: #3 (90/365), #13, #26, #37 (2/<34), #60 (11/50), #68, #66 (40/250), #87, #88, #100 (3/>3)
Currently running exploratory tasks: #38 (1/18), #17 (1/54+), #57 (1/9+)
Currently running growing tasks: #41, #52
Completed: 7
Remaining: 94